Target starts missing the mark sooner that I expected.

By Shawn Robare

For anyone who is a regular reader here at Branded, you’ll probably know that when September rolls around, it marks the beginning of a very special time of year for me.  Whereas most people probably look to Christmas or the start of summer with excitement, it’s a safe bet that I’ll start getting giddy with the coming of fall and another Halloween season.  I’m pretty sure it’s always been this way for me, but it wasn’t until I started this site that I realized just how much I dig the season and this time of year.

Participating in October blog-a-thons, geeking out over crazy new candy designs, overdosing on old horror movies, and documenting the holiday’s more commercialistic aspects have become a tradition in my household.  For me the season officially starts when my local Target puts up its yearly section dedicated to all things spooky.  Like the Macy’s and Gimbels Christmas displays of years past, Target has become a cornerstone for the Halloween season offering not only the basics (candy and costumes that you’ll be likely to find in any other store), but also a slate of interesting bits and baubles exclusive to the retailer.  I’m always curious to see what themes the store will introduce; what sort of design and packaging.  In years past there’s usually been dueling concepts, one aimed at kids (Edgar and Ellen, Skelanimals, or Domo), and another aimed at adults (prominent themes have evoked the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration as well as the cocktail and tattoo cultures.)

Last year I was struck by a sense of pre-nostalgia.  I was convinced that I’d eventually look back and pine for the various displays, characters and merchandise.  It’s almost as if I could feel it slipping away even though there was a ton of cool offerings right there in front of me.  A year ago today I wrote the following:

In fact, for once I can feel the future nostalgia building as all of this stuff, the characters, products, and signage starts seeping into my consciousness.  I can already see the day when the company will switch gears to follow a new, cheaper, pared down trend, and I can already feel myself missing the current one.  It’s sort of like that cliché wish where one imagines utilizing time travel to go back and grab all the stuff that you miss from your childhood, except I’m already there.  The future me is sending back messages via brainwave wifi technologies, begging me to scoop up every piece of flat scan-able branding, or else…

Well, I thought (or hoped) that the future me was years away, but I’m pretty sure I’ve just stepped into those distant shoes.  Walking into Target this year has been kind of shocking in that for the first time in five years there was only one word that I could think of to describe their Halloween section.  Bland.  There are no real visible themes, no licensing partnerships, and not much actual merchandise.  The aisles are sparsely stocked with mostly boring tidbits in pretty drab orange packaging.  There’s also sort of a weird disconnect to the one bit of branding that is apparent.   Target usually has a handful of branded characters that show up on packaging and decorations, and this year they’ve decided to go with a classic monster theme (similar to designs that they’ve used in the past.)  There are three main child-like characters, a vampire, a mummy, and the Frankenstein’s monster, that for the most part are adorning the various candy and paper products, pretty much anything aimed at kids.  But in the home décor section there are a slew of similar, more adult renderings of some of these classic monster characters that are all presented in a completely different style, mainly a mummy, a witch, and a variation on the Frankenstein’s monster.  Normally I’d be all over these characters, but honestly, most of the products they’re paired with are gaudy or boring.

For once, it just feels hollow.  I’m not sure if it’s the once awesome giant sugar-skull planters that have been hideously bedazzled with neon glitter, the lackluster candy section with nothing new to offer, or the general “warehouse” feel to the seasonal displays, but it’s just such a let down.  It doesn’t help that many of the companies that provide neat season merchandise have also been disappearing or simply resting on their laurels.  I haven’t seen a single four pack of the tiny Halloween-themed Jones soda cans.  Though the Tootsie company is still pumping out one of my personal seasonal favorites, Ghost Dots candy, they didn’t follow last years trend with any new varieties (such as the Candy Corn and blood orange-flavored Bat Dots.)

Certainly not the most enlightening statement, but this just reinforces the importance of making your own traditions outside of corporate beasts.  Growing up I also tired of hearing my parents go on and on about the glory of the good old days, but facts are facts and companies mindsets of drastically changed in just the past five years, let alone fifty.  These days business isn’t just about wowing the customer to get them to part with their cash, it’s a hairy balancing act of promoting, packaging and selling in the cheapest possible manner.  With the all new layout and redesign of many Wal-Marts nipping at Target’s heels, maybe it makes sense for them to fight back by dumbing down their stores.  Fanatics like me aren’t the basis for good business in such a broadly reaching consumer market, and shooting for a homogenized, obvious esthetic makes good business sense.  It’s just unfortunate.

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  • PhillyRadioGeek

    It’s still a bit early, so maybe things will improve over the next couple of weeks. Plus, it’s still a bad economy, so that may have affected their plans this year as well. If things get better next year, you may not be disappointed. One place that has surprisingly good stuff for Halloween is the Goodwill, believe it or not. They have costumes, decorations, and other novelties. The one near me sells their stuff pretty hard with a big window display.

  • Jim

    Right on, sir! I agree, the wife and I were at our local the other night and, yeah, just kind of . . . nothing. I think they peaked back in the mid-2000’s, like the 2003 campaign featured on BB: Did everyone just get burned out on too much Halloween growth explosion too quickly? In brighter news, Instructables put up their Halloween page, and there’s plenty of inspiration to be had. I agree, making your own traditions is a great thing, and so is making your own crappy Halloween decorations =)

  • Dale

    I’m sorry your pilgrimage to the target halloween display was such a let down this year. Maybe you can take the opportunity this year to go DIY. Buy up some manikins to make into classic monsters or do something else creative. I’m positive they’ll become your favourite Halloween decorations when you’re done. Not really the point of the post, hopefully the companies that make these things will get back into the spirit next year.

  • Michael Jones

    Over here in Japan, the Halloweeny goodies start creeping into the aisles. Unfortunately, everyone always leaves their decoration shopping for school events & parties until the last minute and by then it’s too late. 90% of the goods have left the shelves by mid-October to be replaced by Xmas goodies! Sacrilege!!

  • Jescie


  • Rondal

    You certainly summed it up, Shawn. With the ongoing trend of stores pumping out their Halloween wares as early and quickly as possible, there’s no defending the poor, understated mess that Target has rolled out this year. The biggest offense of them all? Rapping characters. Yes, the “”interactive characters”” this year all sound like blinged (sp?) out thugs on a sugar high. Lame. Even Spirit Halloween has failed to impress me as of yet with meager offerings and a rather drab setup this year. *Sigh* At least I have my online compatriots and a slew of eagerly anticipated horror films and video games coming to stores this October.

  • Kirk D.

    Thanks for the post, you always beat me to Target and I always appreciate the preview. I wonder if they used an out-of-house design firm this year. If so it could just be a lame effort by them. Judging from those signs it looks like they were attempting something, but it just can’t compare to years past. Photos of kids wearing the product can’t touch some stylized spooks. At least it’s still more arty than the white on blue “”COSTUMES”” signs at Wal-Mart. Well, thanks for the first look. I wonder if Dollar Tree has anything decent.

  • AllHallowSteve

    Hey Shawn, I totally understand your disappointment, but I think it’s just a reflection of the current climate. I did a quick write up on “”The State of Halloween”” here: … and I think what you’re seeing is a reflection of the economic slump we’ve been in. The reason last year (and this year) that the stores put the Halloween stuff up so early is so they can get through that cycle and get to the holidays when the “”real”” money is to be made. That 2000 display you linked to is one of my favorites too. But think about where we were in 2000… it was pre-9/11… pre economic recession… we were doing pretty well. People were employed. There was disposable income, spare change and petty cash. Life was good. Not to say life is bad now, but a lot of my friends and family are struggling in one way or another and it’s easy to cut “”Halloween decorations”” from your budget so that the kids can get Christmas gifts or whatever. I also think that, like fashion trends, the Halloween stores pick their color scheme early and stick with it. In my perfect world, the neo-classic orange, white and black would be the norm, but it looks like (from your pics) that they chose a “”brighter”” “”happier”” color scheme of purples, oranges and greens. Meh… not my thing, but I get that they have to mix it up. And if people aren’t spending as much on Halloween merchandise, Target isn’t going to spend much on designing patterns, colors, mascots and displays. My point: though this year might be mediocre, the pendulum will swing back the other way eventually and we’ll get great displays again. Keep the Halloween faith!

  • PhillyRadioGeek

    I was at my own Target yesterday; you’re right, surprisingly unimpressive. They have to have more stuff coming soon, it looked like the shelves weren’t finished being stocked yet. Oy!

  • Kid Kobun

    The only cool thing I feel they have this year, are the Halloween-themed Star Wars bobble heads. Aside from that, nothing. Such a let down.

  • Paul

    Oddly, this year more than any previous, I’m throughly enjoying the selection & hafta disagree here. I’ve found myself anxious to go back to Target lately – finding any excuse to go (“”oh yeah, I need more tube socks. & we’ll stop in the seasonal area while we’re there.””) I’ve been wracking my brain to find a use for ‘skeleton diagram’ partyware (platters etc.) & I’ve managed to pick up one of the plastic glow lights (pumpkins, ghosts, & skulls varying in blue, pink, & white) each time I’ve gone. The Sunkist/A&W/7-Up midgees have definitely taken precedent over the Jones stuff, & I’m so very fine with that. & I’m particularly fascinated with the school supplies (pumpkin erasers etc.) Maybe I’m just as thirsty as you this time of year, & I’ll take what I can get – but Target’s definitely quenching right about now.